I’ve previously said that nothing prepares you for a thru-hike quite like actually doing a thru-hike. With the Appalachian and Long Trails under my belt, I felt I had a good idea of what I was doing when I first set foot on the PCT. But, the PCT is a quite different beast from the AT, and as I made my way up the trail, the PCT made its own distinct impression.
It’s been nearly six months since completing the PCT — and a few days short of a year since I began the trail — which makes it long past time I write up my thoughts on the trail.
Intellectually, I knew the PCT was going to be quite different than the AT. Pre-hike, I’d spent quite a bit more time reading about the PCT than I did the AT. But reading about the trail doesn’t make up for experience, and my hiking experience was quite colored by the great Green Tunnel that is east-coast hiking.
The PCT was my first foray into hiking on the US’s west coast, and while I could spend quite a lot of time discussing all the ways in which the PCT was different than the AT (and I will, in a future post), for now, I’ll just say that the trail was simultaneously everything I knew it would be, and still far bigger, grander, and nothing like what I expected.
The PCT was a lot of firsts: first hiking on the west coast; first hiking in the desert; first hiking above 7,000 ft (and 10,000 ft, and 13,000 ft); first cowboy camping; first marathon, and first 30+ mile day; first mail drop and bounce box; first significant night-hike; first (and second, and third) fire detour; first hike into Canada. It was my longest hike, in terms of both days and miles. I spent a lot of time wishing for tree cover (that would have been ubiquitous in the East), and as much time wishing it were wetter (when going through deserts) as drier (when fording rivers in the Sierra).
Shortly after finishing the PCT, I felt no great compulsion to return — I foresaw a return to the AT before a return to the PCT. But now, having gone through all my photos and blog posts from last year, I suspect I’m going to find myself on the PCT again. At the least, I’d like to hike the Sierras again — the John Muir Trail this time — in a slightly later season, to see the mountains with not quite as much snow. And it would be nice to see NorCal, Oregon and Washington without a persistent wildfire haze. I missed about 67 miles of the PCT due to four fire detours, though I was still able to maintain a continuous footpath.
The PCT had a wonderful diversity of landscapes. It really was quite a treat to be able to hike from one scenic landscape to another over the course of a day — sometimes even over just hours. But sadly, no small number of those landscapes were the sites of prior forest fires. I’m lucky to have been able to hike the PCT when I did; the number and size of burned areas is only going to increase before the next time I make my way back.
If one could somehow consider the AT “soft”, the PCT could easily be considered its opposite. The desert and the Sierra both offered no shortage of trail that was as beautiful as it was harsh. The trail quite often reminded that you were nowhere near civilization, and if something happened, help would not be quick coming.
On the PCT, as I knew I would, I met no shortage of other wonderful and amazing hikers. So many people, from so many places, make a pilgrimage on our long-distance trails, and it’s an honor to be among them. I also found what I did not expect — one who will be joining me on my next hike — and hopefully many future hikes and adventures to come.
The first words I wrote on the PCT echoed John Muir’s famous quote; “The Mountains Are Calling, And I Must Go”. And I did. And, very soon, now, I’ll be back on a (different) trail. But until then, the PCT still demands a few more words, so this is the first in a series of posts about the Pacific Crest Trail, now that I’ve had time to digest my experiences.